|Description and Photograph||
The bullet struck Palmetto Armory rifle-musket shown here was carried by Private James Bowen Collins, Company L, 21st South Carolina Infantry. “Jas B Collins” is carved into the right stock face, leaving no doubt as to its owner.
Private Collins enlisted in April 1862. After two years of garrison duty in Charleston, South Carolina, the 21st was sent to the Army of Northern Virginia under General Hagood. In his private diary, Hall T. McGee Collins’ comrade chronicles the last days of Private Collins life as he chronicles his own. McGee as an observer, being in the quartermaster department, and Collins as a participant.
The Diary of Hall T. McGee
(punctuation added for clarity)
May 1, 1864 Gen’l Hagood staff and clerks left Charleston by the N.E. RR at 1 pm. Reached Florence SC at 7 pm, remained there that night sleeping in part of the hotel all of us wrapped in our blankets
May 2 Took the cars at 11 am for Wilmington, arrived there in the night at 9 o’clock. Slept in the cars until day light. Crossed the river, spent an hour or 2 in walking about the city - not very much pleasant with the town - small and not very pretty - everything at a most exorbitant price, paid $10.00 for a shave and shampooing. That night we encamped at camp ________ where We found the brigade which had left before us - one regiment the 11th coming after us. Remained at camp until the
4th May when we received orders to report to Gen’l Lee at Fredricksburg. We on the afternoon of the
5th started for Weldon - train containing the 25th regiment and a part of the 21st regiment - soldiers in platform cars. Gen’l Hagood and staff in a passenger car - we traveled quite comfortable. A train had started 6 hours ahead of us containing the largest part of the 21st regiment. 3 trains followed us bringing the 11th, 27th, and 7th battalion forming the entire brigade. On the morning of the 6th while at Wilson (a beautiful village) Gen’l Hagood received a dispatch ordering him to hurry on with his brigade and stop at Petersburg, VA as the enemy was landing at Bermuda Hundreds. Arrived at Petersburg at 8 o’clock on the
evening of the 6th to find the city in great excitement. The 21st regiment had been stopped at Petersburg and marched to meet the enemy. Met them at Mrs. Dunn’s field and had an engagement in which we, only 600 strong, drove the Yankees, 5000 strong, back, with the loss of only 21 men killed, wounded. Immediately reported to Maj Gen’l Pickett hdqtrs where we found everything in confusion. Ordered to ration the men at once and marched to meet the Yankees. Maj Hay and self immediately find Capt Reed ACS and officers in route for the 25th regiment who march at once to join the 21st regiment.
Capt Stoney Adj.G for Gen’l Hagood left to bring on the rest of the brigade as they arrive. Sleep the night on the piazza of the _________ Hotel.
At daylight the 27th arrived and immediately marched through the city with band playing. At 11 o’clock the 11th regiment and 7th battalion arrived - great rejoicing going on in the city at each arrival of troops - streets crowded with anxious ladies who wave handkerchiefs as our tired brigade hasten to the battlefield….. Heavy skirmishing going on all day. At 3 o’clock a battle takes place at Walthall junction - in this affair a heavy loss - we are victorious and Hagood’s brigade wins a name that will last for ages and has given them the name of “the defenders of Petersburg”. The enemy are driven back and we occupy the RR. Maj Hay and self arrive at the battleground at dark and are saddened to hear of the death of Col Dargan of the 21st, Capt Shriner of the staff mortally wounded, Lt Col Pressley of the 25th regiment severely wounded in the arm - Col Graham of the 21st regiment wounded in the leg - the 1st battleground I ever witnessed –(McGee was a quartermaster) particularly impressed with the scene - dead and wounded laying on all sides of the road – wounded begging for water - assist in placing the body of dear Col Dargan in an ambulance to send to Petersburg - after spending hours there returned towards Swift Creek. There we find Dr. Ravenell and Capt Frost, Brelan and Bellinger. About 11 o’clock we cook our first meal since arriving in VA and have eaten a hearty supper of fried bacon and 11:30 o’clock go to sleep on our blankets in the bushes. At 12 o’clock are aroused and ordered to cross over Swift Creek about a half a mile - reason not known, suppose our troops are falling back - next morning
Sunday the 8th find our brigade - Bushrod Johnson who being senior brigadier is now in command. All cross Swift Creek and entrenchments being swiftly thrown up Yankees do not pursue us - ….. all in great glee of our victory - our wounded receive every attention. Capt Stoney improving, some hope of his life.…. Yankees have made their appearance and skirmishing going on.
Monday (May) 9th enemy commence shelling - we compelled to make our camp a half mile further back to the hospital. In the afternoon our brigade sent forward - portion of the 21st and 25th regiments also 11th regiment who cross the Swift Creek bridge and charge the enemy and are defeated and compelled to fall back with a heavy loss. Capt Leroy Hammond and D Hammond killed - quite a number of officers and men - unfortunately we encamped just at the hospital where we saw all the wounded as well as a few of our dead who were being got off. Assisted in laying out the body of poor little Willy Bee and sending it to the city. Many of my friends are brought back wounded, Holmes – Cross – Leno and others. Maj Hay meets a cousin, Hay Hammond who’s mortally wounded - never want to see such horrid sites as witnessed this afternoon ________ bring in Frost and at this time when all in gloom and I fear our battle force can not hold out against the Yankees from 12-15,000 strong. We hear the welcome whistle of the cars which tells us the reinforcements are coming, we feel once more confident. All night the troops coming in and Hoke’s troops pass on to the front - the cowardly Yankees hear it however and also push on to the rear - our troops follow them -
Saturday morning the 14th at daylight… self determine to go to the front and see how matters look. We obtain a fine position at Fort Hoke situated on a hill about 50 or 75 feet high. We have fallen back from our first lines and now occupy our second line at Fort Hoke. I have a most magnificent view of everything going on in the open plain beneath us. We see distinctly our skirmishers engaged with the Yankees. It was truly a beautiful and grand sight to a new issue like myself to watch the skirmishers as they advanced and fell back and see and hear each crack of the rifle - balls however come unpleasantly near and many are wounded within the lines near where we stand. We commence shelling the woods occupied by the enemies skirmishers..- heavy skirmishing going on all day.
May 15th today I have been to Richmond for the first time …Returned to Drewrys Bluff in the afternoon - find all quiet save heavy skirmishing. President Davis rode past going to the front to see Beauregard - still raining.
May 16th we awoke the morning by the deafening roar of cannon and musketry and soon learned the battle has commenced. I immediately hasten to the front and find we have charged the enemy and have recaptured our first lines and are driving back the Yankees. All looking anxiously for Gen’l Whiting who’s to come up at 9 o’clock with 10,000 men in the rear of the enemy - meet numbers of my acquaintances wounded - battle still going on - we completely victorious 10, 11, 12, 2 o’clock and yet no Gen’l Whiting - am afraid we have lost a glorious chance of bagging the whole Yankee army. I now advance to our first lines and see all along the road our dead and wounded - discover to my horror the body of poor Bill Dotterer who had come through with me on the night of the 14th from Petersburg. Learned that Lt Taft is mortally wounded, Lt Bomar killed, recognized an old school mate, Kellers killed. I witness some of the most awful wounds imaginable - see hundreds of wounded Yankees. I endeavor to find the brigade surgeon to get his approval for the whiskey which we wish loaded in Richmond. Find him at the hospital in the field - while there saw a pile of arms and legs amputated and actually see a stream of blood rolling down the hill on the side of which is our brigade hospital. Our poor Jimmy Fellows is being operated on without chloroform and he cannot stand it, his cries can be heard a quarter mile. Some 10 or 12 Yankees are lying under a brush shed waiting for attendance, their moans and shrieks are terrible - I leave the hospital with great relief, my heart sickens at what I have seen today.
May 17th Draw rations at Drewrys Bluff where I first make the acquaintance of Maj Logan, Sgts’s Wallace and Adams. I ride ahead of the wagons and ride over the battlefield - see 22 dead horses in one spot - see hundreds of dead Yankees and see a spot where 500 have been buried by our troops. Our men strip the Yankees naked before burying them. Read many letters - I pull up and actually blush to think a woman could write such disgraceful letters as I read. We encamp that night at “Humphrey’s House” which had been occupied three nights before by beast Butler as hdqrs - everything in the house totally destroyed, furniture smashed up, clothing torn to pieces.
May 18th …. Our brigade is placed in Hokes Division.. - railroads still cut.
June 1st we arrive in Richmond at 12 o’clock, remain there 2 hours - I call to see Mrs. Roman, spend a pleasant half hour - she promises to write my wife of my joining Lee’ Army. We start off at 2 o’clock - the dust is intolerably choking, can scarcely see - arrive at Mechanicsville, pass on toward Gaines Mill, encamp near there in the woods. June 2 go to Gaines Mill where I see Gen’l Lee, President Davis and Gen’l Bragg. We are ordered back near Mechanicsville on the Chickahominy.
June 3rd enemy attack us fiercely and driven back 7 times - Yankees lose great near 10,000 - the cannonading the loudest I ever heard …- I pass over the ground past over by Sheridan’s Raiders and see numbers of dead horses.
June 13 we are ordered in the direction of Malvern Hill, after going some distance we encamp at Frazier Farm.
June 15 we receive orders to join our brigade at Drewrys Bluff which has crossed, as Grant is reported crossing…Maj Hay and self leave Richmond and take the turnpike for Drewrys Bluff. While on the road and near the Bluff we are met by a courier from Gen’l Hagood ordering us to wait there until the brigade comes up and give them rations, as we were ordered to push on for Petersburg as Grant was then pressing Beauregard hard. The brigade came up in a half hour, when we rationed them and they rested one hour and we again start - at Chester Station the brigade take the cars - being almost broken down with marching. … Meet Gen’l Hoke who orders me immediately to get rations for two days for our brigade as we will be fighting tomorrow. Go into Petersburg where I find everything in the wildest confusion - the enemy have all our breastworks and can easily shell the city - much gloom –
June 16th Capt Hopkins and Palmer also Adj Gelling of the 27th regiment killed by one shell while in the trenches … - enemy commence shelling the city - terrible excitement, a woman and child killed. ( The 21st was at this time fighting desperately at Drewry’s Bluff to protect Petersburg. They held, but at great cost; Collins among the killed.)… - the 21st is now commanded by 2nd Lt Ford and none of the regiment by a field officer. Our brigade now numbers 1500 men, brought to VA about 3600 men.
Private Collins’ gun survives as a silent witness to the carnage. The weapon was struck by a ball in the forearm; almost certainly the ball that killed him. The ball entered the forearm just below the barrel, angling from front to rear, and carried his ramrod along as it exited, taking a large section of the forearm with it. I imagine Collins was struck by ball, ramrod and shattered wood. The blow fractured the wrist, though not all the way through.
The gun is totally untouched and just as it was when it fell (it could not have been used afterwards). In one of the pictures, a ramrod has been inserted to show its location in relation to the ball. All of the markings are exceptionally crisp and the gun has a rich deep patina all over. It is completely original in all regards.
This is a most historically significant Confederate long arm with an impeccable battle history.